The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—The start of the debate on colonialism in the United Nations was insisted upon by the Soviet Union, which hoped to achieve condemnation of many of the Western powers through condemnation of the colonial idea as a whole. One of the interesting sidelights is that the Soviets are fearful of military bases being established, or which have already been established, by free nations in some of the "colonial" areas.

Of course, it is well recognized now that the colonial situation is outdated. It certainly is disappearing as rapidly as possible, and it seems that the value of military bases also is disappearing. So, the Soviets' agitation may be outmoded, too, where this particular threat is concerned. And it may be of value to the Western nations to be able to give up these bases, which are rather expensive and a drain on the countries that have to maintain them.

Russia's resolution is aimed entirely at controlling Western colonialism, but the African and Asia states have introduced a resolution that is far more general in its application. Both resolutions invoke the charter principles, but instead of immediate end of colonialism, as demanded by the Soviets, the Afro-Asian resolution requests a "speedy end" to colonialism. Both resolutions ask for "self-determination," but the Soviets carefully ask it only for people outside their own orbit.

The one weakness of the Afro-Asian resolution lies in these words: "inadequacy of political, economic, social or cultural preparedness" shall not serve as a pretext for denying independence. It is quite natural that they should include this, because this pretext has often been abused in preventing the independence of states.

Actually, the self-determination of nations has never been well defined. Most people have taken it to mean that self-determination by the people required certain abilities or qualities in the people before it could be exercised. But more and more the habit has grown to make self-determination a basic right without any qualifications attached to it. Last time I read one of the convenants on human rights that have not yet been presented to the General Assembly it included an article demanding self-determination and not requiring any qualifications.

This is, of course, upheld by the less-developed nations because of the fact that it has so often been used as a pretext for denying self-determination. I have an idea that one should, however, find a way to safeguard this use as a pretext, and still set some qualifications that must be met before self-determination is granted.

Under the Afro-Asian resolution the peoples who are subject to the Soviet Union could very well ask for a revision of the status that they now have in the Soviet empire. Certainly, among them there must be some that would like certain changes made. But the fear of what would happen to them under the present Soviet domination will probably prevent any move unless they feel confident of protection through the U.N.—and there is doubt in my mind whether this can be assured.

The rapidity with which colonialism is coming to an end is a surprise to almost everybody. Many of us have believed that it was bound to go, because of the desire for freedom which was so evidently increasing in world populations. But I think few of us thought it would come quite so quickly.

I was shocked to read that certain of the Afro-Asian U.N. delegates had received a "Ku Klux Klan threat" letter, and I am glad that our ambassador, James J. Wadsworth, showed "deep concern and embarrassment" and asked the FBI to launch an immediate investigation.

The hate letter, of course, is written in the usual confused and uneducated language, but the fact that it was sent shows that these elements in our population think they have great strength and cannot be punished for their actions.

One hopes that they can be ferreted out because this whole attitude of hate among people of different races is one that affects our leadership of the non-Communist world, and those who keep this type of literature circulating in our own country and now have the effrontery to send it to members of the U.N. should be curbed as soon as possible.


(Copyright, 1960, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, November 30, 1960

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.